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With government on the verge of resting, sexual harassment, Chinatown deal, secret FBI recordings stir Mapes case

Anybody who thought the perjury trial of Democratic insider Tim Mapes would be a dull examination of his seven alleged lies before a federal grand jury was in for a big surprise.

Instead, the ongoing case against Mapes has turned into an autopsy of how the record reign of his former boss, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, began to fall apart.

It’s a story that has many layers of intrigue, including a sexual harassment scandal, a Chinatown deal gone awry, the abrupt ouster of Mapes and other Madigan associates, and secret FBI wiretaps that captured much of the melodrama in real time.

Over seven days of testimony, prosecutors rolled out dozens of secretly recorded phone calls, internal emails and other documents collected as part of the massive federal investigation into Madigan and his vaunted political operation.

In piling on the evidence, prosecutors systematically attempted to shred each lie Mapes allegedly told in his March 31, 2021, grand jury appearance, where he is accused of trying to thwart the sweeping investigation that led to Madigan’s racketeering indictment.

With prosecutors expected to rest their case on Monday, Mapes and his defense team then will get to launch a courtroom battle designed to tear down the case against him.

The longtime Madigan chief of staff is charged with perjury and attempted obstruction of justice because he allegedly lied before the grand jury on March 31, 2021 — nearly a year before Madigan’s own indictment.

Proving that someone is lying about not remembering something can be difficult. But this has been far from the typical perjury case. To win an acquittal, Mapes will likely have to explain why he told the grand jury he was unaware of what was happening inside the Madigan operations after the speaker told him to resign on June 6, 2018, in the wake of #MeToo allegations.

But his challenge is much more difficult than overcoming charges that could put him in prison for years.

Prosecutors rolled out evidence of emails and conversations Mapes had with longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, a former lobbyist and a co-defendant in the ex-speaker’s racketeering case who also was convicted this year’s ComEd Four bribery-related trial.

That same pile of evidence must be overcome if Mapes expects jurors to believe that he did not know if McClain carried out assignments for Madigan, a point he made to the grand jury.

The government’s evidence clearly showed Mapes worked with McClain to help organize political fund-raising, committee assignments for House lawmakers and intricate advice for the speaker and his staff, once even sending a 14-point memo of items to address going into the new 2019 legislative session.

One of the theories Mapes’ team is pushing is that he told the truth in the grand jury but just couldn’t remember the answers to multiple questions given, among other things, that he was a man in his 60s and facing the intimidating setting of a federal grand jury.

Prosecutors repeatedly quizzed Mapes’ associates on the witness stand about how he was extremely detail-oriented as he juggled his many roles under Madigan. They saw few signs Mapes had lost a step in their interactions with him after he was forced to resign.

In essence, Mapes will likely need to come up with convincing arguments and specific excuses for how a guy repeatedly hailed in court by colleagues for keeping the “trains running on time” could suddenly be so forgetful.

It could be a high bar to get over because the government tapped into several members of Madigan’s inner circle who, from the witness stand, helped the prosecution build a hard-to-penetrate case.

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Several in that lineup of top Madigan advisers — including political gurus Tom Cullen and Will Cousineau, two former staffers turned lobbyists — came to court with “nontarget” letters that gave assurances that prosecutors did not have them in their sights as long as they told the truth.

“Truth matters” became the clarion call when Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur presented the government’s opening statement, but the road to proving the case opened a window into the near-chaos that toppled Madigan from his throne.

Madigan’s decision to force Mapes to resign as chief of staff, House clerk and executive director of the Madigan-run state Democratic Party over a #MeToo scandal represented the culmination of 2018 becoming a year of reckoning in Springfield.

The scandal began that February when campaign worker Alaina Hampton called out top Madigan lieutenant Kevin Quinn over his relentless string of inappropriate communications, including one text calling her “smoking hot,” despite her saying she wanted him to stop.

Madigan ousted Quinn, the brother of Madigan’s hand-picked 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, but a clamor in Springfield erupted over how Madigan would address mistreatment of women. Within days, a former-staffer-turned-lobbyist was booted from Madigan’s political organization.

The #MeToo issue percolated over the spring 2018 legislative session and broke wide open as medical marijuana advocate Maryann Loncar accused then-Rep. Lou Lang of sexual harassment. Lang, a longtime Skokie Democrat, called the allegation “absurd,” stepped down from his post on Madigan’s leadership team and requested an investigation by the legislative inspector general.

Less than a week later, a staffer working for Mapes accused him of sexual harassment over several years and of fostering “a culture of sexism, harassment and bullying that creates an extremely difficult working environment,” accusations Mapes has denied.

Eventually, the legislative inspector general determined allegations against Lang were unfounded but noted there was no cooperation in the investigation from Loncar, who called the process a “joke.”

Lang nevertheless declared himself vindicated and hoped to be back on Madigan’s leadership team, a move that never materialized because McClain, on Madigan’s behalf, pushed Lang out of office over fears that more accusations might surface, according to secret phone calls and testimony.

Over and over, the jury learned that Madigan insiders feared the #MeToo headlines generated by a string of his misbehaving loyalists would lead to the speaker’s downfall.

“Protect the boss” is a phrase prosecutors repeatedly linked to Mapes.

One almost-desperate email McClain sent to Mapes and a tight circle of Madigan’s political team warned: “If we want to protect and save MJM (Michael J. Madigan) we cannot play punchy bags above the belt… It is time to be offensive. … We have to play hardball and quit doing this nicey-nicey stuff on the calls.”

Madigan himself was caught on one recording with his inner circle as he searched for answers to the increasingly loud questions fellow Democrats asked about sexual harassment and Springfield’s deeply ingrained sexist culture. The secret recording depicted Madigan looking ahead toward trying to preserve his position after the 2018 elections, asking, “What do I have to do or what should I do from now until the speaker’s election?”

Thanks to a big Democratic election year, Madigan easily won another term as speaker and was riding high politically. Democrat J.B. Pritzker beat Madigan’s archnemesis, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, and the speaker won 74 Democratic seats — the biggest majority in his 36 years at the top of the Illinois House.

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But it would be Madigan’s last two-year term in charge. He would lose the speaker’s gavel when he tried in vain to hold on following the 2020 election. Madigan’s own House Democrats dumped him in the wake of federal prosecutors naming him “Public Official A” in an agreement with ComEd to pay a $200 million fine and acknowledge showering Madigan allies with no-work jobs for pals, legal work for an ally and a bevy of 13th Ward internships, all in hopes of getting his help with the utility’s legislative agenda.

The fallout over the sexual harassment scandals had weakened him, and 19 House Democrats, mostly women, denied him another term when they refused to support him. Weeks later, Madigan resigned from the House and the party chairmanship.

Recordings played in the Mapes trial showed McClain pointing out varying degrees of disarray and backbiting inside a Madigan camp struggling to pick up the slack following Mapes’ departure.

At one point, McClain expressed concerns that Madigan’s political organization was flailing so much that it would resemble the “Keystone Cops.”

It was a wiretap of McClain’s call with Mapes four days after his June 2018 ouster that showed McClain, the speaker’s close friend since they served together in the House in the 1970s, was angry at Madigan over Mapes’ forced resignation.

McClain, describing himself as “perturbed,” told Mapes he wasn’t sure he could “contain myself” if the loyal confidant were to hold a conversation with Madigan.

McClain pledged he was “never going to leave the foxhole” with Mapes and “never thought” Madigan would.

Talking to Mapes a few days later, McClain recounted how he told Madigan that he and his family failed to understand “what Tim did for you.” McClain recapped how he told Madigan that Mapes even handled such minutiae as the speaker’s Christmas cards and dealing with the speaker’s wife, Shirley.

The evidence showed McClain consulted with Mapes repeatedly, including on how to get records showing how the Democratic Party handled fundraising throughout what McClain called the former “Mapes-McClain” program.

The Chinatown chapter in the Mapes trial gave the jury a preview of a key part of the racketeering case against Madigan and McClain when they go on trial next year.

The allegation is that Madigan and McClain worked with then-25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis to try to help developers acquire a parking lot in Chinatown by transferring the ownership of the land from the state to the city — a move designed to set up Madigan’s law firm with the developers’ future tax business.

Republican lobbyist Nancy Kimme testified how McClain reached out to her to help make the property transfer happen. Kimme had solid bipartisan credentials, having worked as a top aide for Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka for years and then helping the Rauner administration get up and running when it took office in 2015.

But it turned out that Democratic Rep. Theresa Mah, who represents Chinatown, opposed the plan, and the Rauner administration’s Illinois Department of Transportation did too.

An effort to amend the Chinatown parking lot ownership change to the General Assembly’s annual land-transfer bill failed, causing the effort to fizzle in 2018.

Prosecutors have pointed to a recorded conversation in which Mapes, while still chief of staff, briefly acknowledged that one of McClain’s assignments from Madigan was to work on the Chinatown legislation.

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Given that Mapes served for years as the speaker’s gatekeeper, what he had to say in his grand jury testimony has left Capitol power brokers amazed.

The attempted obstruction of justice charge facing Mapes calls for up to 20 years in federal prison, while lying to a grand jury carries a five-year maximum behind bars.

Prosecutors even sought to counter Mapes’ grand jury testimony in which he could not recall how he ended up talking about a possible utility lobbyist job with Anne Pramaggiore, the former ComEd and Exelon executive convicted with McClain, her company’s longtime lobbyist, in this year’s ComEd Four case.

In his grand jury appearance, Mapes was hazy when Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu how asked how he first connected with Pramaggiore about the potential job.

“I don’t recall exactly,” Mapes said. “I think I got a call from her office, but I don’t — I couldn’t tell you who it was.”

“She just called you out of the blue and said, ‘I want to meet with you’?” Bhachu asked.

Mapes said he remembered only that ComEd had “some reorganization in another state” that they thought he could be helpful with, but that Pramaggiore “never did tell me” which state or provide further details.

“Did she explain to you, like, how she identified you as a person who might be suitable for whatever project (Pramaggiore) had in mind for you?”

Mapes said, “No, sir.”

Seeking to refute Mapes’ sworn testimony, prosecutors played a recording in which Mapes and McClain talked about the meeting with Pramaggiore, for which Mapes was clearly grateful.

“I get why it’s somewhat of a privilege, to meet with the CEO,” Mapes said. “I think that felt pretty significant. I’m very flattered.”

The grand jury recording contained all seven of the answers that the Mapes indictment alleged were flat-out lies that he gave despite Bhachu saying he wanted Mapes to be “crystal clear” that he could be prosecuted for failing to tell the truth.

The defense is expected to begin presenting its case on Monday, and will call an expert witness who will testify on the faults of human memory. They have also said they want to question Bhachu.

Mapes, meanwhile, has not said whether he will testify, though it’s considered a long shot given his previous track record and the high stakes involved.

Bhachu’s repeated grand jury admonishments were particularly telling because Mapes had an immunity agreement that only required that he tell the truth to avoid prosecution.

Even so, one major example of Mapes’ alleged lies came after Bhachu asked, “Do you recall anyone ever describing any work or assignments McClain was performing on Madigan’s behalf?

“I don’t recall that — that I would have been part of any of that dialogue,” Mapes answered. “I don’t know why I would be.”

Later, Bhachu stressed that investigators were particularly interested in any jobs, whether paid or unpaid, that McClain did for the speaker after he retired from lobbying in 2016. Mapes again insisted he knew nothing about it.

“I don’t know who you would go to other than Madigan and McClain,” Mapes said. “Madigan, if he had people do things for him like I did things for him, was, (he) didn’t distribute information freely.”

“The answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that question,” Bhachu said testily. “Do you recall?”

“No, I don’t recall any of that,” Mapes said.

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